“I heard it had been recorded 3000 times or something” — Paul McCartney, The Beatles
Some songs transcend the very nature of pop music. The term, now more often fired out of critical cannons with the sincere intent of causing artistic damage, is usually centred on the idea that the music in question is like an explosive charge. A boom of collective adoration that is, as quickly, subdued and forgotten. But, if there is one band and one song that has firmly bucked the pop music trend, it is The Beatles and their seminal hit ‘Yesterday’.
The track, written by McCartney and credited to the Lennon–McCartney writing partnership, was first released as part of the album Help! and, according to folklore, McCartney composed the entire melody in a dream at the home of his then-girlfriend Jane Asher. The song ranks among one of Macca’s best and is also heavily praised from across the critical world. But despite its huge popularity, it’s not his favourite.
In a previous interview, Sir Paul revealed when talking about the one song Lennon had always complimented him on, ‘Here, There and Everywhere’. “Well, it’s difficult to choose the favourite. It (‘Here, There and Everywhere’) is one of my favourites. You look at your songs and kinda look to see which of the ones you think are maybe the best constructed and stuff,” says McCartney. “I think ‘Yesterday’—if it wasn’t so successful—might be my favourite.”
“But, you know, you get that thing when something is just so successful… people often don’t want to do ‘the big one’ that everyone wants them to do. They kind of shy away from it,” continued McCartney. It’s true, the song has now been so widely covered and repeated that to remove it from its universal appeal is almost impossible. It means that every performer worth their salt has given it a go, from Willie Nelson to Boyz II Men — ‘Yesterday’ is in everyone’s repertoire.
Some artists can handle it a little better than others, however. For every Nelson and Merle Haggard cover, there is a Captain Beefheart rendition willing to spoil the party. But, below, we’ve picked out five of our favourite covers of The Beatles song ‘Yesterday’ to sink your teeth into.
5 best covers of The Beatles song ‘Yesterday’:
Elvis was never shy to show his admiration for those four lads from Liverpool and, during some of his performances in Las Vegas in the August of 1969, the King would regularly cover ‘Yesterday’ as part of his set. It is for this connection of old and new heroes of the pop world that we’ve found ourselves drawn to the singer’s rendition of the track. But, in reality, he was furious at their success.
Despite clearly enjoying the band as musicians Elvis was a patriotic American and was concerned by the Fab Four and especially Lennon who was seemingly thrilled to be portrayed as ‘Un-American’.
Thanks to the widespread playing of the song, it’s hard to hear the original in the same way it was intended. Marvin Gaye’s covered, therefore, feels fresher than ever.
That’s the Way Love Is, the tenth studio album by iconic soul musician Gaye, it included his now famed cover of The Beatles when it was released in 1970. Cited as McCartney’s favourite rendition of the song among the 3000 other versions, Gaye’s cover remains the benchmark of ‘Yesterday’ fandom.
Gaye once said of his music-making: “I hope to refine music, study it, try to find some area that I can unlock. I don’t quite know how to explain it but it’s there. These can’t be the only notes in the world, there’s got to be other notes someplace, in some dimension, between the cracks on the piano keys.” It’s fair to say that he took The Beatles’ and McCartney’s song to a brand new space.
When releasing his 1967 record Ray Charles Invites You to Listen, Charles included a cover version of ‘Yesterday’. Unlike any other performance of the track, Charles enacted his deep, emotional voice to add gravitas to the song.
In an album that failed to impress critically, Charles’ rendition of The Beatles classic remains the lasting legacy of the project and yet another affirmation of Macca’s insatiable songwriting ability.
Billie Eilish took on one of the most iconic songs ever written and somehow made it unique and timeless at the same time. The Oscars is a big stage for any performer, but for the teenager, it posed one of her biggest audiences to date. Perhaps with a degree of unwitting foresight, she ditched performing her soon-to-be classic James Bond theme song ‘No Time To Die.’ Instead, Eilish picked up The Beatles and Paul McCartney’s universal anthem ‘Yesterday’ and made it her own.
Alongside her brother Finneas, they sat by the piano as the In Memorium section of the evening began; The Oscars paid tribute to stars of the industry who have passed away since the last awards ceremony including Kobe Bryant, Rip Torn, Doris Day and Peter Mayhew to name a few.
The performance was more than worthy of the occasion, and Eilish’s vocals were as perfectly balanced between raw talent and expert expression as they’ve ever been.
There aren’t many songs that the wonderful Aretha Franklin couldn’t I’m[prove. The wildly talented Lady Soul made it her mission to give every piece of music her all and was, perhaps quite undoubtedly, the greatest singer of others’ songs we’ve ever witnessed in the western world. It makes sense then, that across her years, she gave a few of the Fab Four songs a good shot too.
While her cover of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ is perhaps the finest of the bunch, her performance in 1979 of the now-classic Paul McCartney-penned track still left the entire world with goosebumps.
A consummate performer, able to add layer upon layer of emotion within a few simple notes, Franklin’s ability to transcend genre was unparalleled and given ample room to shine here. It is simply breathtaking.